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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Public school closings changed many Virginians' acceptance of massive resistance

Governor Almond publicly supported massive resistance strategies, even though he privately knew they were illegal. While the majority of Virginians initially endorsed massive resistance, the closing of public schools seemed tantamount to the destructive of the state and industrial development. As a result, many public figures, including Governor Almond and <cite>News Leader</cite> editor Kilpatrick, altered their public opinions of massive resistance.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginius Dabney, July 31, 1975. Interview A-0311-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

DANIEL JORDAN:
One final question about the '57 election. Is it fair to think of it as a referendum on massive resistence? You've got Almond going all out for massive resistence, but Dalton's position was a little less clear. He was for local option, so it seems to me that that clouds things and is it possible to say that because of Almond's decisive victory the people of Virginia stood behind massive resistence?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That might be an unsound conclusion; it is not quite that cut and dried, I wouldn't think. It certainly tended to be that way, that the majority went for the man who was for massive resistance.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, Almond, of course, was elected and . . .
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
Let me ask one question about this. You said earlier that he had expressed doubt that massive resistence, that integration could be prevented while he was attorney general. Did he express this publicly?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
No, he told friends that he realized that this whole jerry-built structure was going to collapse.
WILLIAM H. TURPIN:
And he was the man who was actually involved in . . .
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
He had to defend all these things, yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
He also, I believe, was quoted as saying that he told Stanley "I don't think that it will work, but I will do anything that you like," as attorney general.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, he did.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Well, he was elected governor and he was inaugurated in January of 1958 and in his inaugural address he made very clear that for the concept of massive resistence. Of course, litigation was going on in the courts all the while. In the fall of 1958, schools were closed by order of the governor.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
That's right.
DANIEL JORDAN:
And what reaction in Virginia at large was there to the closing of the schools?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
A lot of people were shocked by it. I think that they hardly realized that it was going to come to that and when it did, it was a traumatic thing for a lot of people. They began wondering how they were going to continue in this direction. Shutting down schools seemd like a good way to destroy the state. I don't think it was well received by very many people.
DANIEL JORDAN:
As time passed, I gather that greater pressure developed to open the schools.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes.
DANIEL JORDAN:
It is often said that a key event in the sequence of the shift of opinion was a statement by Kilpatrick before the Rotary Club here in Richmond, editorials in both Richmond papers, and then a meeting at the Rotunda Club in Richmond of prominent business leaders in December. Is that a fair assessment of one of the key points of the shift?
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I think so. Kilpatrick was so conspicuous in the other direction that when he said something ought to be done, that was a signal to the whole crowd, I think, that it was time to begin some new ideas and begin some new directions.
DANIEL JORDAN:
What about the meeting at the Rotunda Club? Do you know anybody who was actually there or what was said? I gather that the names have ever been listed.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, I know some who were there.
DANIEL JORDAN:
Without mentioning any names, now.
VIRGINIUS DABNEY:
Yes, the general thought was that this was hurting the state's image, and was going to hurt the state in its industrial development and that businesswise, it was going to create great opposition on the part of industrialists to move into the state where there was a danger of shutting down schools and the whole thing was counter-productive.